Tuesday, August 31

Buckeye Season Preview Part II

The Defense

Even with offensive standouts like Beanie Wells, Ted Ginn, Santonio Holmes, and Maurice Clarett, among others, the strength of every Jim Tressel-led team has been the defense. This year will be no different. Last season, Ohio St's D ranked first in the Big Ten and fifth in the nation in scoring (12.5 ppg), yards (262 pg), and turnover margin (+1.3 pg). The Bucks will return seven starters from last year's dominating unit.

The biggest losses are defensive captain S Kurt Coleman and pass rushing specialist DE Thaddeus Gibson. Also departing were LB Austin Spitler and DT Doug Worthington. While those are some big holes to fill, there is plenty to get excited about on this side of the ball.

The number one reason to get excited is number 97. DE Cameron Heyward has been on the brink of stardom the past two seasons, and looks poised for an All-American senior year. Heyward led the team in sacks with 6.5 last season, and continued to show improvement each week. Nathan Williams has seen lots of playing time each of the last two seasons, and is more than ready to become an every-down performer on the other end.

Dexter Larimore is back at one of the tackle positions, while the other will most likely be filled by sophomore John Simon. Listed at 270 lbs, Simon is one of the smaller lineman on the team but just as strong as any. If he should falter, fellow soph Garrett Goebel and monster freshman Jonathan Hankins (6'4, 335) will fill the void.

The strength of the defense, and the whole team for that matter, is the linebacker position. Led by seniors Ross Homan and Brian Rolle (pictured above), seeing this unit atop the Big Ten would be no surprise. While Penn St has always held the nickname of "Linebacker U," I'd be willing to put Chris Spielman, Mike Vrabel, Andy Katzemoyer, Na'il Diggs, Matt Wilhelm, A.J. Hawk, and James Laurninaitis up against anyone.

That tradition stays alive with these two veterans running the show. Both Homan and Rolle have a knack for being where the ball is, whether that involves tackling runners in the backfield or intercepting passes (seven combined in '09) over the middle, and coordinator Jim Heacock lets them run wild. There is competition on the strong side of the ball. Special teamer extraordinaire Etienne Sabino appeared to come into spring holding the position, but now it seems Andrew (never let 'em see you) Sweat will start when the Bucks come out onto the field in Thursday's opener. The coaches were impressed with Sweat's work ethic and determination as he was constantly in the gym with Homan all off-season. Expect to see both guys on the field quite a bit.

There is lots of experience in the secondary, where a trio of seniors return as starters. CB Chimdi Chekwa is the leader of the group and a preseason All-Conference pick. Fellow corner Devon Torrence and SS Jermale Hines can both provide the big play (Hines had a pick-6 in the Wisconsin win last year) but at times get caught going for it too often and either miss a tackle or get flagged for interference.

There will be a huge dropoff at the other safety position, where inexperienced sophomores C.J. Barnett and Orhian Johnson (combined 14 career tackles) will try to fill the huge void left by Coleman. An interesting story to keep an eye on will be Tyler Moeller, a former linebacker turned safety, who missed all of last season with a head injury.

The Buckeyes also need to replace last year's kicker and punter, as Aaron Pettrey and Jon Thoma both graduated. Pettrey had one of the strongest legs I have ever seen from a collegiate kicker, but was often inconsistent from short range. OSU may be better off with 27-year-old former soccer player Devin Barclay, who filled in for the injured Pettrey the second half of the season, making the game-clinching kick over Iowa in OT. Ohio St will enjoy addition by subtraction in the form of Thoma leaving, where I really think anyone would be an improvement. That anyone will be Ben "The Cannon" Buchanan, who struggled in the spring game but has a strong leg and may kick off as well. (I really wish I could take credit for "The Cannon," but I heard it elsewhere.) The Bucks have a whole slew of guys that can return kicks. Brandon Saine and DeVier Posey should get the majority, but we'll also see Dan Herron, Jordan Hall, Dane Sanzenbacher, and possibly Jaamal Berry.

The Schedule

A very pleasant sight for Buckeye fans will be not seeing USC on this year's schedule. Ohio St replaced them with another tough opponent in Miami, whereas SC will take the week off to surf, frost each other's tips, and text each other on their Blackberries (sometimes while surfing/tip-frosting). A reliable source intercepted this text from Matt Barkley to Carson Palmer: "dude u thaught u made bank here? i jst got 500 bux 4 turning in a essay on exestenalism or smtg lol. totaly copied it off the net lol. gtg bro, catch you on the waves. -barx"

Ohio St opens the season this Thursday (49 hours and counting...) at Ohio Stadium against the Thundering Herd of Marshall. I can't believe we are this close to kickoff. The Bucks come into this game as 28.5-point favorites and shouldn't have a problem, but remember, this team often lets a bad team hang with them for awhile at the beginning of the season (Navy in '09, Ohio in '08, Akron in '07, and yes, Marshall in '04 where we needed a 50+ yarder from Nugent at the buzzer).

September 11 is the showdown with Miami. Coach Randy Shannon is starting to bring the 'Canes back to prominence, and QB Jacory Harris is a sleeper Heisman contender, but we saw what they could do against a Big Ten defense in last year's Champs Sports Bowl where they were dominated by Wisconsin. Plus, the game will be in The Shoe. Miami is a good team, but I'm not too worried.

After the Hurricanes, OSU has two easy non-conference games at home against Ohio and Eastern michigan before Big Ten play. The conference schedule begins with their first road game at Illinois and home versus Indiana, two teams that should finish near the B10's basement. Obviously you never know how things are going to go, but it looks like the Bucks won't have their second real test of the year until October 16 when they travel to Wisconsin. The Badgers boast a very high-powered offense, led by preseason Conference MVP RB John Clay, QB Scott Tolzien, and TE Lance Kendricks.

OSU will be looking for revenge in the Oct. 23 match up against Purdue at Ohio Stadium. Then they travel to Minnesota before getting a week off. The bye week could not possibly come at a better time, right before the three biggest games on the schedule - Penn St, at Iowa, and michigan. Penn St may be a little down this year with the loss of QB Daryll Clark, but will still be very talented and this series always seems to offer a close game. At preseason #9, Iowa appears to be the toughest contest on the schedule. For years I have been saying Iowa has been overrated, and I'm not at all sold on QB Ricky Stanzi. That being said, the Hawkeyes have a tough defense (DE Adrian Clayborn has All-American written all over him) and you know you can count on a Kirk Ferentz team being prepared and determined.

As Andy mentioned in a post the other day, this will most likely be the last time Ohio St will end their season against michigan, as the two appear to be heading to different sides of next year's realigned Big Ten. I guess it doesn't really matter when we beat these gap-toothed, uneducated, hillbillies, but I really enjoy doing it to close out the year.

Looking at the entire schedule and placing a win, loss, or too-close-to-call label on each, the Fighting Brutus' are looking at 8-0 with Miami, @Wisconsin, Penn St, and @Iowa being the make-or-break games.

The Outlook

So once again Jim Tressel will lead the Buckeyes into a season with one goal in mind - winning a National Title. This goal seems very realistic, but as with any team in any sport in any year, lots of things will have to fall our way. Terrelle Pryor limiting his mistakes and playing consistently is certainly the first thing that needs to happen. If it does, you can at least expect another Big Ten title, and possibly another shot for the BCS Championship. Only time will tell.

Up first: Marshall, Thursday 7:30, Big Ten Network
I mentioned earlier about some of OSU's slow starts in the past - don't expect that to happen here.
Prediction: Ohio St 39 Marshall 10


Saturday, August 28

Buckeye Season Preview Part I

We are just a few days away from the greatest time of the year: football season. As a kid and now as a teacher, nothing softens the blow of a new school year like some pigskin. Ohio St will begin the season ranked #2 and picked by many to play for another National Championship. The talent, experience, and coaching are certainly there for another Buckeye title run. Let's break it down.

Last Season

Ohio St came into last season like they typically do, with expectations so high that anything but a title would be a disappointment. Disappointing wasn't even the word for it, maybe devastating, when the Bucks blew a game that they absolutely should have won in the second week of the season against USC. I wonder how much money Matt Barkley got for that game-winning drive.

After the SC loss, OSU's defense took over and just absolutely dominated, giving up a mere 20 points during a four-game winning streak. Then the Buckeyes traveled to West Lafayette, and played the worst game I have seen them play in years, possibly a decade. Terrelle Pryor had by far his worst performance in his two-year career (and there have been some bad ones), turning the ball over six times in the loss to an awful Purdue team.

Ohio St responded to the loss just like they did with the Trojans: by going on a tear, outscoring their next three opponents 107-14, including a dominating win over a very talented Penn State Nittany Lion team. Next came a thrilling overtime victory over Iowa followed by our annual stomping of that school up north before a trip to Pasadena for Ohio St's first Rose Bowl since '97. Pryor had by far his best game in his two-year career (and there have been some good ones) and the Buckeye defense shut down the high-powered Oregon offense in a 26-17 victory. TP's performance and seemingly rising level of maturity in that victory is leading many to dub him as a Heisman favorite for this season. I'm not quite on the bandwagon yet, but we'll get to all that later.

The Offense

Most offenses are built around and rely heavily upon the quarterback position, but it's even more so with this Buckeye unit. OSU has tons of weapons at the other skill positions, but lacks that one breakout star. Pair that with the fact that Terrelle Pryor was possibly the most sought-after recruit in the history of college football and Buckeye fans are still waiting for him to live up to the hype.

I can sum up Pryor's freshman and sophomore campaigns in one word - inconsistent. TP has shown flashes running and throwing the ball that make him look like the next Randall Cunningham. He has also shown very poor decision-making, ball security, and at times accuracy that make him look like the next Spergon Wynn. This season is going to come down to his development and maturity, which appear to be coming along if the Rose Bowl was any indicator.

Many people are banking on that development, and have Pryor listed at the top of their Heisman rankings. I'm not sold yet. He has to show me he can do it on a consistent basis until I can think about him on stage in New York. Every time I want to believe in him I get nightmarish flashbacks to that Purdue game. The way I feel towards Pryor is very similar to my feelings towards LeBron James during his time in Cleveland. I have never been a fan of his personality, but respect his tremendous talent and love him because he is the best player on my favorite team. If Pryor disappoints me (like LeBron), I will forever hold a grudge against him. If he succeeds (think LBJ staying in Cleveland and winning a title or two), he will forever go down in Buckeye lore.

Behind Pryor on the QB depth chart is redshirt freshman Kenny Guiton, who stole the show at the spring game and could push incumbent #2 Joe Bauserman. With a total of 19 collegiate passing attempts between these two, let's just hope that Pryor can stay healthy.

The running back position is super-deep, but doesn't have one guy that will really "wow" you, as noted by Pryor leading the team in rushing last season. Athlon Sports magazine compared the depth to the '92 squad, which featured Robert Smith, Raymont Harris, Butler By'not'e, and freshman Eddie George. While I won't get that carried away, I do really like this unit.

I absolutely love Brandon Saine, as you may remember from me constantly shouting for him to get more touches last year. If Pryor and Saine don't run the option at least 3-5 times a game, I'm going to be livid. It was the most successful play (maybe save for the deep fly to DeVier Posey) in limited use last year. As a change of pace to Saine, Boom Herron is the bruising back that can go right up the gut (which is funny to me because Saine is two inches and 20 pounds bigger). I'm not sure which one of these two is listed as the starter, but it doesn't matter as they will each get about the same amount of carries.

Author's note: My "Boom and Zoom" nickname didn't quite catch on last year. Apparently ABC/ESPN broadcasters don't read enough FCF. Their loss.

Although these two veterans will get the bulk of the carries early on, don't be surprised if redshirt freshman Jaamal Beery steals the show by season's end. The number one RB recruit coming out of high school last year, the Bucks decided to redshirt Berry because of the aforementioned Boom and Zoom combo (I'm still trying to make it work) and some nagging minor injuries.

Two sophomores, Jordan Hall (who played with Pryor in high school) and Jermil Martin, played well in mop up time last year and could see a few carries here and there. True freshman Carlos Hyde has a lot of potential, but expect to see him redshirted. Zach Boren is a stud at fullback. Don't expect him to get many touches, but just watch him lay some devastating blocks.

Write this down: DeVier Posey will have a breakout year and be All Big Ten, possibly an All-American. While Dane Sanzenbacher is the most polished wide out on the squad, Posey is definitely Pryor's #1 target and has the size and speed to be spectacular. I mentioned in several posts last year that he needs to become more precise in running routes, and I believe he did that as the year progressed.

Sanzenbacher is our version of Wes Welker. Certainly not intimidating anyone with his 5'10, 175 pound frame and white skin, Sanz is not afraid to go over the middle, is an excellent route runner, and will catch anything in sight. Duron Carter should see more passes thrown his way and could provide a few big plays and highlight reel catches (after all, he is the seed of the greatest hands of all time) each game if he can keep up his grades and stay eligible. Taurian Washington, who has been in coach Jim Tressel's doghouse for years due to drops and off the field issues, will get one more chance at playing time for his senior season. Senior Ray Small, who will do most of his damage in the return game, and freshmen Chris Fields and T.Y. Williams will all see some action. Jake Stoneburner is also a threat at tight end, especially in the red zone.

With Jim Cordle (who missed several games last year) being the lone graduate, the offensive line could be dominant. Mike Adams, who has shown talent but has had off-field issues and may lack some toughness, will move to tackle to fill Cordle's position. Bryant Browning and J.B. Shugarts are back to man the right side, Mike Brewster showed great progress at center last year, and LG Justin Boren is pre-season All Conference (suck it, michigan). Sophomore Marcus Hall is the biggest guy on the team (6'5, 320+) and will push Adams and Shugarts for playing time.

You may be getting bored by now, so I'll be back in a day or two for Part II, where I'll take a look at the defense, schedule, and overall outlook and expectations of the team.


Return to Progressive Field

A win! An actual win! The Tribe broke their 5-game losing streak tonight with a 3-2 victory over the A's, as I attended my first contest since Tribe Weekend. I know, right?

Last night happened to be Dog Night ("Puppypalooza") at the park, which was nothing short of embarrassing. The World Series has taken place at Progressive Field twice, and now we're reduced to having people bring dogs so we can crack the 8,000 fan barrier? How the mighty have fallen. Between the Lake County Captains and Cleveland Indians, I've now inadvertently attended two Faith Nights and two Dog Nights in the 2010 season. It's only a matter of time before I stumble into Peanut Butter Night, Sarah Palin Night, or Celibacy Night at a local ballpark.

In addition to a strong start from Justin Masterson and a surprising two-run home run from Matt LaPorta that elicited the most indifferent response to a go-ahead home run I've ever seen, two impressive performances made last night's win possible:

As you can see in the photo at right, a summit of two great athletic champions took place at Progressive Field last night, and I think my message of encouragement inspired Mustard to a big win in the Hot Dog Race, pulling him into a tie with Onion and just two races back of the evil, disgusting cheater known as Ketchup.

Not only did Mustard take the checkered flag, but he also managed to knock Ketchup to the ground AND destroy one of the guys holding the finish line ribbon at the end. Well done, my tangy, delicious friend.

Pure Rage Perez
What more could you possibly want from Chris Perez? He's the best pitcher on the team, has easily the greatest hair in baseball, and even inspired everyone's favorite Twitter feed, . All he did last night was come into a one-run ballgame in the 8th with two of Joe Smith's runners on and get five outs, stranding Smith's friends and striking out four in the process to earn the save. That, my friends, is closing.

Friday, August 27

Turning The Game into a game

I first heard about it from a somewhat-cryptic Twitter update from America's Greatest Sportswriter, Joe Posnanski. What you say? Something's up with the Ohio State-michigan game? I had to learn more.

I ran a search and found out what Joe was talking about: it appears that Ohio State-Michigan, The Game, will no longer be the final contest of the season in a realigned Big Ten. Although no formal announcement has been made, it appears that OSU and Michigan will be placed in opposite six-team divisions of the 12-team misnomer that will be the 2011 Big Ten, will play their annual game in October and could face each other in a Big Ten Championship game, provided the teams win their respective divisions.

The reaction from the sports world has been unanimous: in the words of Samir Nagheenanajar, this is horrible, this idea. No one likes it. NO ONE. I recommend the article by Dan Wetzel that I linked above - it makes strong arguments both logical (Auburn and Alabama maintained their season-ending rivalry in a mega-SEC) and emotional (100+ years of tradition!). The only positive comment I read on the planned arrangement came from michigan "Athletic Director" David Brandon, who said in all apparent seriousness, "One of the best things that could happen, in my opinion in a given season, would be the opportunity to play Ohio State twice." Let that one sink in, Buckeye fans. The highest of high comedy.

I conducted a highly scientific poll concerning this issue, and 100% of respondents described it, unprompted, as "dumb," with one pollee going so far as to label it "fucking dumb." (Full disclosure: I asked Nick and Figgs and included my own opinion. Margin of error: 0 points.) One out of three respondents needed a minute to stop laughing after considering the notion of michigan winning a championship of anything, at least until they start giving out titles for ugly helmets and recruiting violations. I bet even my man in the photo above thinks it's a terrible idea, and we're talking about a guy who thought it was a good idea to wear that hat and that shirt in public.

And of course, now it's time to talk money. Obviously, the sole reason the NCAA and the Big Ten favor this arrangement is that they think they can make the most money from it. I'm not being overly cynical - that's just how major college football works. Sometimes this is even a good thing - I don't care what time of day the networks decide games need to start, as long as they keep putting them on TV. Still, cases like this must make Bud Selig terribly envious of the NCAA's efforts to turn fans away from their product. As the Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises points out, OSU and Michigan would have only met in this title game three or four times in the past seventeen years. It's not clear to me how destroying the mystique of The Game on the off chance that OSU and Michigan make the title game is good for the league.

I'm not a fellow who's big on tradition, especially when I view something as simply tradition for the sake of tradition. But this is a GREAT tradition, without question one of the finest in all of sports. Shark Week has nothing on michigan Week. Whether we're good (we are), or they're good (this used to happen occasionally), or both are good, or neither, it's just great having the best rivalry in college athletics take place at the end of the season, right where it belongs. And the Big Ten's officials want to take that game and move it to October, so it's just another game before the two clubs take on Indiana and Minnesota the next week? This isn't right.

I suppose the best hope now is that the immense public backlash causes the dummies in charge of this decision to reconsider their position. Go Bucks!

Thursday, August 26

The Real McCoy

My goodness, is that ever a bad headline I just wrote. Can we get an editor around here? Oh right, that's me. How about a writing staff? Ah yes, that's me too.

Naturally, this is about Colt McCoy, the Browns QB draft pick about whom this gun-jumping article appeared on Yahoo! sports today.

Titled "Could the Browns cut Colt McCoy?," the piece semi-discusses that very possibility, adding that "Coaches are reportedly more impressed with veteran newcomers Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace."

Yeah, no kidding they are. That's why they're the top two quarterbacks. But unless I moved to some bizarro universe where NFL teams don't carry a third QB, there's still a roster spot open there for our third-round pick. It's more than a little strange that Chris Chase's article has nary a mention of Brett Ratliff, the man against whom McCoy is actually battling for a job this fall.

The PD has already published a story this afternoon confirming that McCoy will make the team, and: of course he will. The point wasn't to have him play this year - it was to have him learn behind Delhomme and Wallace and see if he develops into an NFL starter. Why on Earth we would keep Brett Ratliff instead of McCoy is beyond me - I'm at least a little surprised that Chase didn't point out the extent to which cutting McCoy would fail the Common Sense Test.

After all, second-round pick Montario Hardesty hasn't played a preseason down, and we're not talking about how he's on the bubble because the Browns like Jerome Harrison and Peyton Hillis. That having been said, I wouldn't mind seeing Mr. Montario carry the ball a few times before the Brownies line up three Sundays from now in Tampa Bay.

Wednesday, August 18

TMQ on LeBron

Look, as annoyed as I was with LeBron's shenanigans earlier this summer, I have to take issue with ESPN's Gregg Easterbrook (TMQ)'s bizarre item, "LeBron James Has Uneventful Summer."

LeBron James has never won an NBA championship - as opposed to, say, Derek Fisher, who owns five rings. What exactly are his accomplishments, beyond making money and getting media attention?
Well, for one, Gregg, he's won the past two NBA MVP awards. That seems like an accomplishment, no? He's also claimed a scoring title, put up the best single-season PER since Jordan, led the Cavs to two 60-plus wins seasons, and somehow got an undermanned 2007 Cavs team to the Finals. But you're right, no accomplishments. And the Fisher comparison is preposterous. Are you actually suggesting that Derek Fisher is a better basketball player than LeBron James? Because he is not, and including him here is intellectually dishonest. Adam Morrison has two titles - does that make him a better player than LeBron?

Supposedly, James is unstoppable, but in the playoffs he has been stopped on an annual basis.
Who ever said he was unstoppable? This is written as if basketball is an individual sport, which is most certainly is not.

Bruce Bowen, Robert Horry and Michael Finley: These are players who started against James the one time he reached the NBA Finals and defeated him.
These are role players who were fortunate to be on the same club as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. This is a tremendously weak argument, picking the three least important starters from a championship Spurs team as if that somehow denigrates James' success. Every title team has role players and stars - the role players aren't suddenly better than stars on non-title teams just because they have better teammates. Easterbrook knows this and is still trying to make this non-point.

Horry owns seven NBA championship rings; he is a substantially more accomplished basketball player than James.
If the only metric you use is championships, then yes. If you use pretty much any other metric, then no.

Yes, James wins trophies for himself. The most tedious figures in sports are the ones who collect individual awards but never make their teammates better.
This is ridiculous. He wins trophies "for himself" by playing basketball the best he can and leading his teams to wins. I don't get it, should LeBron have played worse so as not to win those trophies and thus avoid being tedious? How, exactly should he have made his teammates better - being the best player in the league? Leading the league in assists by a forward? Wait, he did do those things.

People who view winning a championship as the only way to measure sports accomplishment are morons. Basketball is a team game, just like baseball and football, and while it's true that superstars dominate hoops more than the other, it still takes a complete team to win a title. Plus, there are 30 teams in the NBA and last I checked, only one can win a title each year. Great play will not always be rewarded with rings. In fact, I've found the whole recent bashing-LBJ-for-not-winning-a-title thing to be a tad unfair, though bashing him for tanking Games 5 and 6 against Boston is legitimate.

Maybe James will win a title with Miami, but TMQ is pickin' up bad vibrations about the whole stacked-Heat turn of events.
I wish I could say the same - that club looks tough.

ESPN.com's J.A. Adande sums up my reaction: "Everyone associated with this looks bad."

If Miami wins the next NBA championship, it will seem the season was a staged stunt, like professional wrestling.
Someone already made an internet video about that like a month ago. It was hilarious.

If the Heat don't take the championship, James will have sacrificed public respect in return for treading water. Lakers and Celtics, BEAT MIAMI!
I agree with this even though I hate the Lakers and Celtics. Hell, I'd even root for Orlando at this point.

Once, James seemed a special person because he was loyal to Ohio, a nonglamorous place with all kinds of problems.
Problems like having to waste time line-by-lining poorly-argued sports articles. Also, LeBron was never loyal to Ohio, just Akron. And the "special" thing is, at least in part, because he was awesome at basketball. I mean, I'm loyal to Ohio - all of it - and I'm not a special person, despite what my Mom would have you believe.

When James made his announcement, the carefully screened little kids at the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich, Conn., didn't clap; they groaned in unison.
Did that really happen? I don't think that happened.

Even the kids knew it was the end of James as a special figure.
Doubt it.

Now James is just another spoiled pretty boy who cares only about himself.
He is that first thing, but he's also the best basketball player in the world, so...slightly different.

Sure, there are lots of pro athletes who care only about themselves.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say most players care about at least one other thing. LeBron has two kids, for instance.

Why did James have to become yet another?
So he could play basketball on the beach with his buddies. Do you really not understand this, or is this just a writing device you're using? I find myself wondering this increasingly about people constructing arguments using rhetorical questions. Do you really not know this?

Decision night note: James said, "I wanted to do what was best for LeBron James and what would make him happy." Referring to yourself as "him" takes the royal "we" to an absurd new level.
It's not the same - "we" is a first-person plural pronoun while "him" is a third-person singular one. It was a pretty silly thing to say, and this is coming from a person who regularly refers to himself as Francis.

Heat note: This better work for Pat Riley, as the Heat have shot their budget until 2016, and quietly gave up four first-round and two second-round draft choices in the sign-and-trades that completed the package. Miami also surrendered two "trade exceptions" (in the NBA, cap allowances can be traded). Even in a soft-cap league, the Heat will have no powder left in their keg for several years. In recent NBA history, teams that have mortgaged their caps and draft positions -- think of the Knicks - soon regretted doing so.
Frankly, as lame as the whole situation is, I think Riley made the right move going for the gold. On the other hand, I hope it fails epically.

Sunday, August 15

Ten Reasons Why I'm Looking Forward to the 2010 Browns Season

I'm not jumping ship on the Indians by any means, but let's face it: we're in August, the Wahoos are 16 games out of first and losing home series to sub-.400 clubs, and, well, we're football fans. I think it's time to pop the tab on some Browns writing here at FCF, and I'd like to do so by taking an optimistic look at the Browns' 2010 season and what it holds for the club's fans. Are we going to win the Super Bowl? Vegas will pay you 100 to 1 if you really think that and are correct, so maybe it's not a high-percentage bet, but I think we've made some strides in both organization and personnel, and a 7-9-type campaign isn't out of the question. With that, and on the verge of their first preseason game, here are 10 reasons why I'm looking forward to the Browns' 2010 season.

1) Mike Holmgren Pointing Fingers at People
Professional Football, with its egalitarian financial structure, is all about the quality of your organization and Front Office, and Browns fans have had their share of ineffective leaders since rejoining the NFL in 1999. But the presence of Mike Holmgren, a proven winner, as Browns President, has instilled a lot of confidence in the fan base going forward. In addition to his imposing figure, his record of success in the NFL, or the confidence he exudes, I think one additional factor is most important in earning fans' trust: pointing fingers at press conferences. It's one thing to get up in front of everyone and explain your vision for the team and call yourself "The Big Boss" when everyone else is going with "The Walrus," but the commanding finger-pointing is how you really know he means business. This guy has the look and sound of a guy who knows what he's doing - let's hope that carries over to wins for the Browns in upcoming years.

2) Joshua M**********g Crubbs
If this cat can make 4- and 5-win teams exciting, imagine what he might be able to do on a real, live, winning franchise. Last year he was clearly our best player, sparking the team's late-season resurgence with completely undisguised Wildcat runs and claiming the NFL's all-time record for kick return touchdowns. With his contract situation settled, all Cribbs has to do is go out there every week and run over, through, and past people, just like he's always done. I'll be sporting my #16 with pride on Sundays this season.

3) Braylon Edwards being on another team
The very definition of addition by subtraction. I heard on the radio where he took some more potshots at Cleveland for no apparent reason, saying he was "too New York" for the city. If by "New York" he meant "Completely inept at catching footballs," then yes, I agree.

4) Partying it up with the FCF crew
I'm too old anymore to get too crazy on gamedays, but I'm sure I'll have a couple of opportunities to get together with FCF's Browns staff and have a good time on a few Sundays. I hope Calico Jack isn't invited. I wonder if Nick will have a Browns' hawaiian shirt for warm early-season games.

5) 1 pm, Sunday
The NFL and its TV affiliates still hasn't figured out that wins and losses in the league fluctuate wildly from year to year, and thus the Browns have zero prime-time games and not even a 4 pm game on the slate this season. Fine with me. 1 pm is my favored start time anyway - you can get a little bit done pre-game, but it doesn't cost you your entire afternoon like a 4 pm game. The night games can be fun, but I rarely stay up for the entirety of non-Browns prime-timers because they run so late. Give me 1 pm on Sunday, any day.

6) Entering the season on a four-game winning streak
When has that ever happened? You have to go back to 1986, and even then that's only a regular-season win streak, because teams don't typically end seasons on runs like that and fail to qualify for the postseason. Here's hoping the next time we enter the season on a four-game skein of victories, the fourth one was in a game with a Roman Numeral after it. Oh, and did I mention that one of those wins was against the Pittsburgh Steelers? Because one of them was against the Pittsburgh Steelers. A 13-6 win. Over the Pittsburgh Steelers. I feel like maybe I'm being unclear in my language here, and perhaps it's because I keep typing in sentence case. ALL CAPS may be of assistance. THE CLEVELAND BROWNS DEFEATED THE PITTSBURGH STEELERS 13-6 THE LAST TIME THE TEAM PLAYED. e-mail me at forestcityfanatics@gmail.com if any of this is unclear.

7) Something to divert our attention form the Miami Heat going 82-0
In past years, we've had the start of Cavs season and the promise of a deep playoff run easing some of the pain of a 2-7 Browns start at the beginning of November, but not so much this season. Just a reason to get even more into the local gridiron club. I'm all in.

8) Extraneous NFL activities
I still don't really like Fantasy Football , but some-time FCF contributor Dasharath finally badgered me into joining his league this season. I'll be leading my team (Dethklok) into battle each week using a power structure similar to that employed by the Browns. Nick will actually do the drafting and probably the lion's share of the week-to-week operation (Heckert + Mangini), while I will be the face of the franchise and point fingers at people at online press conferences (Holmgren). I don't see how we can lose. While we're on the topic of fantasy, I have to say that I agreed with almost nothing that Bill Simmons wrote in his recent Fantasy Manifesto. Maybe if I actually play, my perspective will change, but all his ideas like auction drafts and Backgammon-style doubling seemed really off the mark to me.

We've also got FCF's annual against-the-spread weekly picks, this year featuring a full season from Gopo and Bucko, along with Nick, Figgs, and me. Should be a good competition.

And lastly, there is the small matter of Gopo and my yearly Browns-Steelers bet. Thanks to the Browns beating the Steelers (see item #6), I managed to avoid losing this bet for the first time since its inception circa 2002. It's a simple bet: if the Browns beat the Steelers twice, Gopo (hypothetically) owes me a case of PBR; if the opposite happens, I owe Dasharath a 30-pack of the beer selected as America's Best in 1893. If the teams split, the bet is a push. I'm already looking forward to claiming my prize for 2010. I might bronze it.

9) Everyone's signed
No holdouts! Well, except for Joe Haden's like half-day holdout, but generally speaking, we got the whole club in camp on time. Maybe Brady Quinn's 2007 holdout, which would eventually torpedo his efforts to become the Browns starter and potentially his entire NFL career, had an effect on some of the new guys, but for whatever reason, they all signed. I know I already picked on Simmons once, but I was flabbergasted by his article with "The 10 types of Holdouts," and his general thesis that holdouts are about more than money. No they're not. They're all about money, every time, 100%. They are about nothing other than money, NOTHING. I'm not the sort of cynical person that thinks that everything people do in life is about money. There are numerous counterexamples, but none of them occur in the world of sports contract holdouts. Players never renegotiate deals to get more respect or more plays run their way, or whatever - they renegotiate them to get more money. I can't be any more clear on this point.

I mentioned Quinn in the previous paragraph, and I want to add here that I will definitely, definitely, not miss hearing the inane song "The Mighty Quinn" this season. I have nothing against Brady, and wish he'd had more success here, but I'm pleased as punch to have that track out of my life. Sorry, Nick.

10) The Last Hurrah
I dunno, a lot of folks think this 2011 lockout is an inevitability. I've long held that there's too much money on the table, and too much time before it would happen, for the NFL and its players to not reach an agreement, but a lot of experts seem to think it'll happen anyway. So hey, let's get in as much Browns excitement in 2010 as we can.

During the authorship of this piece, the Browns marched down the field effortlessly to take a 7-0 lead on the Pack. Super Bowl. Run 'n' tell that, homeboy.

Wednesday, August 11

The Downtown Report

Downtown Chicago that is! I spent this past weekend in the Windy City, which was not really windy at all, rocking as hard as possible at the 2010 edition of Lollapalooza ane enjoying the city. I did pass Swirling Garbage Field, home of the Chicago Black Sox, and was stuck in a traffic jam while doing so, both of which infuriated me. Andy's gettin' upset! I also ran into this guy shown at right (picture forthcoming), sporting simply the worst t-shirt I have ever seen or can even theoretically conceptualize. I booed him heavily prior to this photo.

I also saw that Chicago's multisport community is alive and well; there were many, many swimmers out at the Ohio shore (boo-ya) of Lake Michigan out for a swim at 8 am, and I was one of them. I was the only one without a wetsuit and basically turned into an ice cube out in Lake Michigan (it's deeper than Erie and stays colder), but it was still fun. There were also tons of runners and cyclists out on the Lakefront Trail; I'm more convinced than ever that Cleveland needs to destroy Burke Airport and put a nice park by the lake.

The only drawback of the trip was that it cost me a chance to compete in this year's Cleveland Triathlon, in which Nick placed 8th out of over 200 competitors. Congratulations to Nick! I'll be taking down my second career International Triathlon next week at Vermillion.

Well, enough traveling, multisport, and Black Sock trashing. Let's look at our clubs:

Have you noticed how rarely this team still ever gets blown out? Yes, they lose their fair share of games, and you'll have that, but they never seem to be way out of it. The club has improved both offensively (OPS+ 96) and defensively (ERA+ 88) from where they were before starting the 21-18 stretch they're currently enjoying.

Not just that, but they're doing it with players who figure into the club's long-term and short-term futures, AND they've been doing it against stiff competition, as I wrote not long ago. This month, they won't see another club with a record above .500 until the final two days, when the Black Socks invade Cleveland. At 47-65 (.420), I think a reasonable goal is 70 wins, which would require them to post a 23-27 (.460) mark the rest of the way. What do you think?

It's also time for me to get to another game! I'm sporting a fairly ugly record on the year at 3-7, but still optimistic. Rock 'n' Blast is coming up this weekend, and I'll be laying low pre-triathlon, so that seems like a good time to walk on over to the park. Seriously, someone remind me that I live 10 minutes from Progressive Field.

My perspective on the whole LeBron saga hasn't changed much, though my knives have been sharpened a bit since the initial announcement left me a bit flat. Let me offer a few observations:

- A LeBron Heat #6 is the worst jersey in all of professional sports. At Lollapalooza, I saw two fellows standing next to one another; one had a Falcons #7 Vick jersey and the other a Heat #6 James and I didn't know who I had more contempt for. OK, the Vick, you're right, but still. I loved seeing that kid get thrown out of Progressive Field the other day. Bad things tend to happen to people who try to piss off 15 000 people at once.

- "The Decision" now bothers me less than that pep rally/fashion show thing they had at Miami's Arena where Wade, Bosh, and LeBron pranced around in their uniforms under neon lights, fog, and confetti. I honestly don't think I've ever seen anything stupider than that in my entire life. I'm reminded of Kay Corleone after Michael receives that award from the Vatican for giving them $100 million: "I think that was a shameful ceremony."

- I hate the fact that Miami is going to be good. I hate the fact that Miami has enjoyed two World Series titles and one NBA championship in the past 14 years, that they could quite possibly add another Larry O'Brien Trophy, and that half of the titles will be at Cleveland's expense. I never thought anyone could become my least favorite NBA team this fast.

- Somehow, it's entered the national consciousness that Cleveland fans are mad at LeBron simply because he left, not because of the extra-douchey way in which he left, as we claim. Nope, sorry. It WAS the way. I think most fans respect his right to play wherever he chooses, and I'm not going to pick on him for taking this career path. I'm disappointed because it kills the near-term championship prospects for my team, but not critical.

But that TV special and the fashion show - those were sickening. THOSE are the reasons why Cavs fans turned on LeBron, not just because he left as a free agent. People leave as free agents all the time; people don't have egomaniacal ESPN shows to rub in in the face of their hometown and strut on catwalks all the time. I really would like for national commentators and non-Cleveland fans to be clear on this.

Soon, very soon, things will once again be right with the universe: the NFL season is starting. It's only 33 days until the Browns take the field in Tampa Bay, and an even 40 until they pop the tab on the home portion of the slate against Kansas City. Let's face it, we all need some football, even if it's another 6-10 Browns campaign. Expect more from the FCF Browns staff on the upcoming season, assuming he ever decides to write anything.

Soon, very soon, things will once again be right with the universe: the NCAA Football season is starting. It's only 23 days until the Buckeyes take the field in Columbus, popping the tab on their slate against Marshall in Ohio Stadium. Let's face it, we all need some football, especially if it's another OSU run at a title. GET EM.

Wednesday, August 4

I'm not done with Boston yet

One thing I left out of my post about ESPNBoston yesterday: the sportscaster said that Carlos Santana was out for the rest of the season with that leg injury. Amazing that he was able to know that, even though the Indians' medical staff has said no such thing and Santana hadn't even had an MRI yet.

I'm going to say it, because no one else is: Fenway Park is ridiculous. The Green Monster, the garage in center, Pesky's Pole - it's a preposterous place to try to play baseball. I know it has a rich, storied tradition and blah blah blah, but just try to convince me that this is a legitimate place for a Major League Baseball game. It's silly.

Now is the part of the piece where I take issue with ├╝ber-Boston fan Bill Simmons, and his recent column on why the Red Sox are boring.. I really like Simmons' writing, but this one is way, way off the mark. His premise is that the 2010 Red Sox are a boring, uninteresting team, to which I can only respond: cry me a fucking river.

Look at the facts. The Red Sox are 60-46, third in their division, but still very much in contention for a Wild Card spot. Boston won the 2004 and 2007 championships. And you're bored with them? What an incredible sense of entitlement! This guy has gotten to see his favorite teams win SIX titles in the past ten years, including victories in baseball, football, and basketball. I don't have to remind you how many rings Cleveland clubs have claimed during the same time span. A Forest City Fan reading him complain about the 2010 edition of the Red Socks is like a guy who's been laid off reading a CEO complaining about not getting a $50 million bonus one year. It's really appalling.

Simmons' article are always, if nothing else, supported by extensive arguments, and this misguided piece of whining is no exception. He even breaks down the Red Socks' boringness (reminder: they are 15 games ahead of the Indians, a team I am not complaining about) and assigns percentages to the various factors.

First up is Injuries, at 10%. Boo hoo. Can I get you a tissue, Bill? The Tribe has so far this year lost their franchise player for the entire year (Sizemore), their best infielder for a month (Cabrera), their most expensive player to shoulder problems (Hafner), their best all-around player for weeks (Choo), their closer for most of the year (Wood), and now their most promising prospect in years (Santana) is injured...thanks to a Red Sock. Cleveland, unfortunately, doesn't have semi-infinite money like Boston to patch up these injuries. Red Sock fans have absolutely no right to complain about injuries. Be a man and deal with it.

Next is Front Office ineptitude, regarding which I would refer William to the Kerry Wood and Travis Hafner contracts. Also, in case I didn't mention it yet, Boston has a fucking huge payroll.

Fifteen percent is chalked up to a "hangover" after winning two titles. Frankly, I wouldn't know anything about this, but it seems reasonable. HOWEVER, I can't imagine myself ever writing an article bitching about the Indians not being as exciting anymore since they won the World Series. If I ever do that, come here to Cleveland and punch me right in the stomach.

He adds another five percent for the Bandwagon effect. I'm glad to see that this annoys real Boston fans as much as it does everyone else on the planet. I'm actually amused by how corporate Fenway has become - either it's that, or every night is free Polo Shirt Night. Of course, to reiterate my theme, I'd be willing to suffer through the horrible nightmare of seeing more people attend games at Progressive Field if it meant the Wahoos were World Champions. I'm a giver, what can I say.

He assigns five percent to "The Steroid Era Hangover," something that hasn't in any way dulled my appreciation of baseball. So they don't hit as many home runs any more - so what? He tacks another five percent on for "The Decline of Baseball in General" - I'm pretty sure his original draft summed to 95% and he had to plug the gap.

The last 55% has nothing to do with the Red Socks, really - it's all about the ballooning length of baseball games. I strongly agree with Simmons here - there is simply no reason that MLB games need to be taking so long. I also concur that thereare simple ways to achieve a significant reduction in game time. He proposes these two ideas:

1. We need to dump the DH. Like, right now. It's stupid, anyway.
Negative, and calling it "stupid" is not a compelling argument. I happen to think pitchers flailing helplessly at balls is far stupider.

2. We're only a few other tweaks away from getting these games to a manageable time. What about giving managers six timeouts during a game in which they can cross the baseline, and that's it? What about a 15-second pitch-clock? What about giving hitters three seconds to leave the batter's box, or it's another strike? (Unless you've tipped a ball off your foot, caught something in your eye or desperately need to adjust your boys.) What about two minutes between half-innings for commercials, then the next hitter has to be standing in the batter's box at 2:01?
The pitch clock idea is not a good one, but everything else here seems easy enough to implement. In particular, batters who insist on stepping out of the box and wasting 10 seconds every single time they see a pitch are annoying.

So yeah, games can and should be shorter. I'm not going to call the Indians "boring" because of it, but it's true.

Also, I hate the Red Socks.

Tuesday, August 3

The Worldwide Leader

I suppose I could probably write a column each week ripping ESPN for various issues I have with the way they conduct their business, but that would get tiresome, and you probably know the chief complaints anyway.

Nevertheless, I thought their "highlights" from last night's Tribe game were appalling. It's no secret that their game recaps have gotten shorter and less entertaining; Baseball Tonight used to be basically an hour of the day's best game action, which was awesome. Now it's 10 minutes of Yankees and Red Socks and 50 minutes of like John Kruk, which is not awesome. It makes me laugh that ESPN.com now has their "ESPN Boston" and "ESPN New York" local versions, because: what's the difference?

Anyway, the "highlights" from last night's contest were this:
- Kevin Youkilis hitting a soft lineout and injuring his thumb.
- Carlos Santana injuring his knee on a collision at home.
- Red Sock Adrian Beltre's three-run home run.

Oh, by the way, the INDIANS WON THIS GAME, 6-5. It sounded like it almost pained the broadcaster to mutter that little piece of information at the end. At least they didn't show us scoring any runs or making the final out or anything like that. Imagine if the roles had been reversed, and Boston won a 6-5 decision at Progressive Field. Can you imagine ESPN only showing a Tribe home run and then casually mentioning that the Socks had prevailed. Um, no.

Monday, August 2

We're good

Not FCF - we're inept, and enormously lazy. I mean "we" as in "The Cleveland Indians."

While I'm here, it's time for me to rail against people who complain about a fan of a club speaking in the first person plural while discussing said club. This nemesis of mine will say something idiotic like, "we? you're not on the team" to which I say: suck it. To me, when you're a dedicated fan of a team, you're a part of it. It IS "we." When one says "they" or "them," that's the opponent. If anything, the first-person usage clarifies things. Consider these conversations:

Random coworker: "How'd the Indians do last night?"
Me: "We won!"

Completely unambiguous. And awesome that the Tribe won (3 straight now). OK, now check this:

Random coworker: "How'd the Indians do last night?"
Me: "They won."

Who? The Tribe? Some team I hate? The Washington Generals? The questioner is left wondering if I've third-personed them, much like you, the reader, are now wondering if I'm the first person ever to use "third-person" as a verb. But semi-seriously, am I calling our nemesis "they"? Who the hell knows?

But besides that, it's completely legit for me to call a team I actively support "we." I'm a part of the Cleveland Indians community, and if you're reading this, you probably are too. I have a fridge magnet with the Tribe logo. I have a clock with the Chief. They both say "#1 Fan." I went to a game with Nick and Figgs where it was like 40 out and the whole stadium was filled with fat Tiger fans. I'm in "The Tribe," the Indians fan club I joined so I could basically get free MLB Radio. I write a fucking blog about the Cleveland Indians. I've been in the Tribe Social Deck. I MOVED TO CLEVELAND IN LARGE PART SO THAT I COULD WALK TO PROGRESSIVE FIELD (BUT IT WAS ALSO A GOOD CAREER OPPORTUNITY). I care more about the franchise than most of its players. Ask David Huff if he remembers Wayne Kirby.


ANYWAY, the Indians are playing some good ball! Undefeated in August. Consider the post-all-star-break-results-random-hyphens:

Detroit: Swept 4-game series (Tribe Weekend!)
@Minnesota: Won 2 of 3
Tampa Bay: Won 1 of 3 (I type optimistically; this is the baseball equivalent of "partly sunny" instead of "mostly cloudy")
new york yankees: Won 1 of 4
@Toronto: Won 2 of 3
@Boston: Won 1 of 1 (so far)

That's 11 of 18 authored by, basically, the Columbus Clippers, against .567-ball AL competition. I'll take it, all day. Are we gonna lose some of those one-runner's we've been winning? Sure. But some of them will become 3-run wins, while some become losses - everything evens out in baseball. But at least the Tribe is exciting - they've been sporting a lockdown 'pen, a solid rotation (if an improbably young one), and an offense that never seems to score a superfluous run. A few random notes before I put the finishing touches on probably the only FCF piece you'll see this August:

- Chris Perez is my favorite Indian. I like everything about him: the badass hair, the respectful and energetic postgame chats with Hammy, the crazy stuff he chucks towards the plate, the 2.13 ERA, the 13/14 on saves. I haven't looked forward to a Tribe closer taking the mound since basically Mike Jackson (well, Wickman, but for largely comedic reasons), and I'm happy to be back. I see CP out there and I book a win.

- Quibble about the returns from the Peralta/Kearns/Wood/Westbrook deals if you will, but do not forget: none of them were worth anything to us going forward. Nothing. The Wood deal is particularly impressive to me - basically, the spanks are paying us $1.5 million for me not to have to watch him pitch for the Indians anymore. I woulda chipped in had they asked. We've got a closer who stays healthy and gets people out, thanks.

- The jury is out on Santana's injury, but I'm not stoked about a Gimenez/Marson catching arrangement for the rest of 2010.

- Josh Tomlin does NOT look like he's getting by on guile and tomfoolery. He's straight-up getting hitters out with quality pitches. Don't overlook this cat.

- Choo and Cabrera: still good. If we get a healthy Sizemore back next year, we go this way 1-9:
1) Brantley CF (presuming he learns how to stop making so many outs - this can easily be Crowe, who has impressed lately)
2) Cabrera SS
3) Choo RF
4) Santana C
5) LaPorta 1B
6) Sizemore LF (yes.)
7) Brown DH
8) Anyone 3B
9) Donald 2B

I like this. Key benchers are Crowe and Nix. I can't mention our current D"H" because of how crushingly bad his contract is. But he might play some.

- Dave "Shelley" Duncan: quality value signing.

- "Paging Mr. Hermann..."

We might still lock down 70 W's this year. If so, give Mr. Acta some credit. Go Tribe!